Riot police conduct training exercises ahead of May Day rally

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers have conducted training exercises ahead of an anti-government mass rally on May 1.

The opposition alliance, made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party (AP) and leaders of business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party (JP), expects at least 25,000 people to take part in the May Day protest.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News that the alliance does not expect a heavy-handed crackdown from police.

“We are not talking about overthrowing the government on May Day. We want an end to the brutality shown against Maldivian citizens by president [Abdulla] Yameen’s government,” he said.

Leaders of the opposition alliance have been traveling across the country in recent days, holding rallies and urging opposition supporters to converge on the capital on May 1.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.

Opposition leaders have said the mass rally will force president Yameen to “come to the negotiating table” and discuss the release of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The SO training meanwhile took place on the island of Feydhoo Finolhu during the weekend and involved exercises on controlling protests.

Police said the first round of the training session has concluded and all SO officers and other officers transferred to the department participated in the exercises.

Similar exercises were carried out with stun guns and grenades ahead of an MDP-JP mass rally on February 27.

In a sermon in Malé on Thursday night – attended by senior members of the allied parties – head of the AP’s religious scholars’ council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain called on the police and military not to “brutalise” any Maldivian citizen.

Ilyas urged police to disregard orders from superiors to use force against the public.

Meanwhile, speaking at a futsal stadium opening event in Lhaviyani Naifaru on the same night, Adeeb said the current government cannot be overthrown through street protests.

The deputy leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives said only 60 or 70 people were taking part in the nightly protests.

The opposition alliance “cannot do anything,” he said.

In response, Shifaz said today that the rally on February 27 had considerably more than 60 or 70 people.

“We are doing what an opposition party is supposed to do,” he said.

Shifaz said it was inappropriate for a minister to mock and challenge the opposition.

He suggested that Adeeb and other senior government officials were “unfamiliar” with the new democratic constitution and multi-party democracy.

“We were there even at the start of the work and awareness of democracy. Maybe Adeeb is too young to be familiar with ruling through a democratic system and the constitution. How can such people rule the country?” he asked.


‘Peace offering’ met with pepper spray and arrests

Three activists were arrested from a youth-led opposition protest march yesterday after making a “peace offering” of white roses to riot police.

Specialist Operations (SO) police officers blocked the march at Orchid Magu, issued warnings of dispersal by force, and used pepper spray against protesters after the roses were laid at their feet, Mohamed Azmeel, president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) youth wing, told Minivan News today.

“White roses are used everywhere in the world as a peace offering. A group of youth offered white roses to police to show that we are peaceful. But they didn’t accept and pepper sprayed us,” he said.

He noted that the three activists taken into custody were among the group that offered roses to police.

The protest march dubbed ‘Heylaa’ (Wake Up) was organised by youth activists of the opposition alliance, made up of the MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and the Jumhooree Party, with the aim of “bringing an end to brutality”.

The alliance has been staging nightly protests in Malé against what they call the government’s persecution of opposition political leaders. Former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim were sentenced last month to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively, on terrorism and weapon smuggling charges.

At least 140 protesters have been arrested since February. The MDP has previously accused SO officers of instigating a “coup d’etat” in February 2012 that led to then-president Nasheed’s resignation and of using excessive force against protesters.

The MDP youth wing has said protesters wore white t-shirts yesterday to “symbolise peace and friendship” while the white roses were offered to show that protesters were not seeking a violent confrontation.

Azmeel said he did not understand why police had to use pepper spray or make arrests as protesters did not attempt to break police lines.

He noted that police had not put up barricades on Orchid Magu.

A police media official said the three men were arrested for “disobeying orders” and “obstructing police duty.”

One protester was released “after giving advice” last night, he said, and police have not decided whether to seek extension of remand detention for the pair still under arrest.

Azmeel insisted that the march was peaceful and that protesters did not disobey orders.

“Disobeying orders would be crossing a barricade or refusing to take a route they showed. But none of that occurred there,” he said.

At least 150 youth led the march on Friday afternoon, Azmeel said, which began around 4:30pm at the Usfasgandu area and made its way west on the capital’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu.

The protest march stopped at various locations where youth leaders made speeches, he noted, adding that police had told protesters not to stop.

The march ended with a prayer for the safety of opposition leader Nasheed and other detainees.

Azmeel said the purpose of the march was “to raise concerns of youth and raise our voices.” The march was part of opposition activities in the run-up to a mass anti-government rally planned for May 1.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May 1, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.




Eight arrested following clashes with Special Operations police in Addu City

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.

Police arrested eight individuals in the island of Maradhoo in Addu City yesterday (May 15) following clashes with Special Operations (SO) officers near a campaign office of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Police said in a statement that SO officers were dispatched upon receiving information that two rival groups were preparing for a gang fight.

“When police went to the scene at around 3:15pm [yesterday] and attempted to search the people there [for weapons], a group of people in the area threw rocks, inflicted varying degrees of injury to police officers and caused unrest,” the press release stated.

The eight men arrested during the disturbance for allegedly obstructing police duties included a 19 year-old, two 20 year-olds, a 21 year-old, a 22 year-old and two 27 year-olds, police said.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan tweeted shortly after the arrests that clashes occurred with police following a complaint of loud music from the party’s youth office.

He today told Minivan News that although the PPM was in the process of collecting information on the incident, the party would not rule out the possibility that gang violence was behind yesterday’s clashes, playing down the possibility of political motivation behind the police action.

Nihan claimed that street fights between rival gangs from different neighbourhoods were common in Addu City, while also being symptomatic of growing “friction” between different political supporters ahead of this year’s presidential election.

“We can only rely on police accounts of the matter so far that this was a group of people fighting each other,” he said.

The clashes occurred in an area recently established by the PPM for young supporters, a policy that Nihan explained was designed to encourage youth engagement with its election campaign.

“We never thought anything like this would happen though,” he said.  “We believe that the rule of law must be upheld regardless of political colour.”

Nihan said older supporters had noted a “scattered group” of young people around the area where clashes later occurred.

PPM officials told Minivan News that a party supporters and another eyewitness had alleged police had attempted to raid the campaign area to perform a search, resulting in confrontations with some PPM members present in the area.

MP Nihan told Minivan News yesterday that party supporters and other witnesses had alleged that officers had arbitrarily detained party members.

“There is some confusion as to what has gone on, even in the party. Sources tell me many people were taken into custody for no reason,” he said at the time.

The PPM today also slammed supporters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over what it claimed were attempts to accuse the Maldives Police Service of using excessive force against members of the government-aligned party.

Special Operations (SO)

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also took to twitter to condemn “the actions of a few policemen who’ve arrested members of pol parties, used excessive force, violated the sanctity of their premises.”

Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in the wake of a mutiny by SO officers, who have since been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators.

The police press release meanwhile stated that a group of people attempted to block the link road and had thrown rocks at police vehicles following the arrests.

Police also denied allegations in social media of brutality against women and children by SO officers.

Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said yesterday that he was aware of “confrontations” between police officers and a group of young people in Maradhoo, though he was awaiting exact details on the matter.

Sodig said that Maradhoo was traditionally a close knit community, with residents often standing by each other.

Newspaper Haveeru reported eyewitnesses as claiming that police beat people who chased them after rocks were thrown.

Photo from Addu Online

A resident of the house where the PPM office is located told the newspaper that police entered both the office and adjoining house, used pepper spray and threw people to the ground before taking them into custody.

He claimed that the situation turned violent when police asked a young man to lower his boxer shorts while searching him.

“He refused, started yelling and people gathered. Then verbal attacks were exchanged between the people and police and they started throwing rocks,” he was quoted as saying.

Community website Addu Online meanwhile reported that a crowd gathered in the area in the wake of the arrest to protest police brutality.

The demonstration was reportedly dispersed when SO officers returned to the area.

Local media reported later in the day that rocks were thrown at two police officers near the Hithadhoo regional hospital. The pair were however not hit by the projectiles.

Police also arrested an individual in Addu City last week for allegedly threatening to kill an officer.

Mayor Sodig told Minivan News earlier this month that 50 people were arrested in advance of a visit by President Mohamed Waheed on May 8, “and about 90 percent of those taken in were MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] supporters”.

Police however denied making the arrests.

As part of an ongoing police operation in Addu to “keep the peace”, “lots of people were taken into custody and were released after their information was collected”, a police media official who spoke with Minivan News initially stated.

The official then refuted the statement, claiming that only one person was arrested in Addu City on May 7.

Mayor Sodig explained that the city council had requested the police “provide extra strength to increase numbers to about 30 per station.”

“The special operations team [responded by] sending their ‘star force’, but they don’t have their commander here. He’s not in control of this group or operations. Instead they are directly overseen by Male’ command,” said Sodig.

“That’s the reason why we don’t want them to continue,” he declared.

The task force consisting of 50 special operations police was started in January 17, 2013 and was supposed to end April 17, according to Sodig. However, the entire special operations force has remained in Addu City, targeting those allegedly involved in drug and gang issues.


MDP MP Ibrahim Rasheed arrested, placed under house arrest

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Maafanu South Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda’ has been placed under house arrest for five days by the Criminal Court, following his arrest after midnight on Friday on charges of threatening and attacking a police officer and obstructing police duty.

According to a statement by the formerly ruling MDP, MP Rasheed was taken into custody at 12.30am from a popular cafe in the capital Male’ by “20 militarised police.”

“MP Ibrahim Rasheed was arrested under a warrant obtained by the police relating to an incident two days back on 30 July when it was reported that the MP was ‘bitten’ on his back by a policeman in the process of being arrested while participating in a protest rally,” the statement explained.

“The MP was released within a few hours on that day with two other MPs who were also ‘picked up’ with Hon Rasheed.”

Video footage has since emerged on social media showing MP Rasheed’s arrest on July 30 during an MDP motorbike rally. A riot police officer appears to bite the MP behind his shoulders during the arrest.

Photos surfaced on social media showing bruises on the MPs’ back and the prescription letter from private hospital ADK where he was treated.

Police however released a statement on July 31 denying that any injuries were caused during the arrest of the three MPs.

The police statement insisted that MP Rasheed’s claim to MDP-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV that he was bitten by a police officer was “a false allegation.”

Police further claimed that the three MDP MPs resisted arrest, used obscene language and caused varying degrees of injury to police officers. Aside from MP Rasheed, MDP MPs Ahmed Easa and Mohamed Gasam were also taken into custody on July 30 (Tuesday).

The statement also accused MP Rasheed of attempting to mislead the public regarding his arrest to bring the Maldives Police Service into disrepute, condemning the MDP MP’s remarks to the media.

Police have also denied reports by Amnesty International alleging “excessive use of force” against MDP demonstrators since the controversial transfer of power on February 7.

The MDP statement meanwhile noted that MP Rasheed was severely beaten by riot police officers on February 8 during a violent crackdown on an MDP march across Male’.

“Hon Rasheed is among 10 MPs who have been the subject of police brutality that have gone unaddressed for the last 6 months in spite of repeated appeals by the Inter Parliamentary Union to investigate the matter,” the MDP statement added.

While no charges have been brought against the Special Operations (SO) officers caught on camera beating MP Rasheed on February 8, the People’s Majlis secretariat sent a letter to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) requesting the police watchdog body to “speed up its investigation into the cases of violence against MPs on 8 February 2012.”

“The letter also requested the PIC to update the secretariat on the progress of current investigations on this matter,” according to the Majlis.

Meanwhile, the Criminal Court on Friday extended the detention period of former State Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Mahir Easa by an additional ten days.

Mahir was brought to the Criminal Court at 2:00pm yesterday along with MP Rasheed.

Mahir was arrested on charges of inciting violence against police officers during a speech at the MDP’s ‘Usfasgandu’ protest camp last month. Mahir had said he would not hesitate to cross police barricades to restore the MDP government.

The MDP has called for Mahir’s immediate release arguing that since police possessed both Mahir’s statement and a recording of his speech, there was no reason to keep the former state minister detained.

Mahir was beaten outside the police headquarters on February 7 during the police mutiny at Republic Square.


PIC investigating police handling of MDP protest

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) is investigating police handling of a ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protest on October 20 outside the Supreme Court that spread to the residence of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Speaking at a press conference today, PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail revealed that four people lodged complaints with the commission after the disturbances outside Gayoom’s residence Endherimaage.

“While protests around the area of the Supreme Court are definitely prohibited, I believe that police failed to carry out their responsibilities by allowing people to gather there,” she said.

In a press statement last week, the PIC questioned whether police had done enough to control the protest and prevent damages to private property. The commission said it would investigate the events of the day and recommend legal action.

After a wooden plank allegedly thrown from Gayoom’s residence critically injured a 17-year-old, MDP activists threw rocks at the building, clashed with Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance and tried to knock down the door of adjoining residence Maafanu Endherigas.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam explained last week that demonstrations in certain areas, including courts and army gates, are prohibited by the Regulation on Assembly, put in place by executive decree under the previous government.

“Members of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) have both gathered in these areas though, even though we have requested them not to. Some of them have gone to the army gates and the President’s gate as well, so occasionally we have to address the issue,” he said.

Police meanwhile issued a press statement last night defending its actions on the day of the MDP protest, claiming that “some people are trying to blame police and relentlessly spreading misinformation to mislead the public.”

Prior to the protest, which was announced to begin at 3.30pm, the statement noted that police put up security lines and road blocks at 2.45pm around the Supreme Court and cordoned off the area.

“The area was closed off to prevent people from gathering there and to ensure there was no hindrance to the hearing to be conducted at the Supreme Court,” the police statement said.

However, while police made way for MP Mohamed Musthafa to enter the Supreme Court, “others entered into the cordoned area saying they had registered for the hearing.”

“As police had not been provided with information about those authorised to observe the hearing, while they entered the area others who had not been registered also came in,” police said.

As the Supreme Court had requested security and police believed that attempts to arrest protesters and disperse the crowd could have led to disturbances and affected the hearing, “police tried to control the protest and prevent more people from coming into [the cordoned area] until the hearing was concluded.”

The statement noted that in similar circumstances police used its discretion to restrain from using force to ensure that “the work of state institutions are not disrupted.”

When the crowd marched to Endherimaage after Musthafa emerged from court, police officers remained outside the Supreme Court.

Police officers were dispatched to the area around Endherimaage shortly after clashes erupted, the statement noted, and the officers were able to control the disturbances and disperse the crowd.

Minivan News journalists at the scene noted that police arrived after several MDP activists attempted to knock down the door of Endherigas and Endherimaage. Some protesters had briefly entered Endherigas but were kept out by a young man wielding a metal cone.

Police officers however blocked the entrance of both houses after they arrived at the scene, some 10 or 15 minutes after the violence erupted.

The police statement meanwhile criticised the PIC for putting out its statement last week allegedly without clarifying the matter with police.

“As the Police Integrity Commission is a commission formed to investigate with fairness complaints against police, this service deeply regrets [the commission] releasing such statements based on false information being spread in the media by political parties for political reasons without completing its investigation and unlike how it acts in similar cases,” it reads.

The statement alleged that individual police officers were facing intimidation from politicians, which was “unacceptable.”

At today’s PIC conference, Shahinda however denied that the commission acted any differently in the wake of the controversial MDP protest.

The purpose of the statement was to assure the public that it was investigating the incidents, she continued, noting that the four complainants were not all political parties with a political motivation.

“We have released statements regarding other serious cases as well where we wanted to appeal to the police,” she said.

Asked if police were subject to undue political influence, Shahinda said she could not comment on the present case before the inquiry was over, “but generally I don’t believe there is political influence over police.”

Shahinda also said that the police explanation for not dispersing the crowd was not a valid reason.

“After people had already gathered, not dispersing the crowd saying the hearing could be affected is not an acceptable excuse,” she said. “I don’t believe people should have been allowed to gather there in the first place.”